"Can cut it in a solo capacity, away from his myriad other projects?"
It is so refreshing to see such diverse line-ups in the Melbourne live rock scene at the moment. Opening for the blistering, funky rock of Ezekiel Ox and his band is Xani. A well known figure in the Melbourne music scene, Xani Kolac sings, rocks the violin and fronts a six-piece band, including two on-the-money backing vocalists. Opening with schmaltzy, jazzy pop, she takes the building crowd on a trip across rock, more pop, country, folk, a cappella and more, with songs about artichokes, Freedom Furniture couches and political activism. Sailing above it all are Kolac's sweet vocals and dexterous fiddle work, the violin alternatively providing Celtic and country vibes and evocative atmospheres. Recent single Grey is a particular highlight of the set. What a beautiful way to open.
Next, in a neck-snappingly sharp turn, Born Lion storm the stage. This Sydney-based four-piece have been increasing in profile and notoriety recently, and it’s easy to see why - their sound is raucous and comes replete with unashamedly big vocals, a ballsy punk aesthetic and just a touch of boogie. Their live show is a little on edge, and joyously rough around the edges. This is part of their charm, they’re not here to play note-perfect and watertight, they’re here to rock the fuck out and have a great time. After the life-affirming sweetness and light of Xani, these guys provide an ideal, flat-knacker lead-in to the Ox and his superb band.
While Ezekiel Ox and the band he has put together all have illustrious pedigrees in the Melbourne and Aussie scenes going back years, decades even, this incarnation – technically Ox's solo endeavour – is a relatively recent phenomenon. But they're a live unit that gets better every time they hit the stage with their growing catalogue. Throw in a couple of unexpected but choice covers, from such diverse sources as Redgum and Dolly Parton (the latter of which features Ox on an acoustic guitar and Xani jumping up to provide some sweet guest fiddle), and their hour-plus set is a celebration.
Ezekiel Ox. Photos by Stephen Hunter.
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It is long accepted that Ox is not only a powerhouse vocalist and frontman, but also vital and unwavering in his message and his desire to create a strong sense of community within the scene and without. But could he cut it in a solo capacity, away from his myriad other projects? While it is still a work in progress, he is going a long way towards answering that question with an emphatic, fist-pumping ‘Yes!’ on this current tour. This band is growing in confidence, chemistry and strength all the time, and the happy crowd even celebrate with an all-in ‘group hug’ towards the end of the set.